Top 10 Major Marketing Mistakes That Cost You Money

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By STEPHANIE WOODCOCK

I recently purchased a Peloton bike.  I was doubtful at first. Will this become an expensive clothes hanger? Will I feel like going to my basement to literally spin my wheels?

Stephanie Woodcock

After setting up my subscription service with customer care, they said, “Welcome to the Peloton family.” Oh wow. We’re family now? Okay? I didn’t quite get it.

Then I took a ride. The virtual live class takes over the screen and you become part of this enthusiastic community. You’re swept away by the vibrance of this brightly dressed and animated instructor telling you that you are the best. You are a warrior. Royalty. And how great you will feel after this climb interval. As a first-time skeptic, it was exhilarating. 

The bike itself didn’t motivate me, however pretty it looks in my laundry room. But the live classes with upbeat music did. The unique, on-demand classes and celebrity-like instructors made all the difference in my desire to use the bike.

In many ways, our marketing is like this bike. If it stays dormant and unused, it’s just an expensive piece of equipment that cost you a lot of money with little to no results. 

We’ve got to spin it to win it. 

Are you winning in your marketing plan, or are you spinning your wheels? 

Following are my top 10 major marketing mistakes that cost you money:

#1 Your website is static, out-of-date, not mobile friendly or too detailed with industry terms.

User experience matters. In this virtual environment, your website is a good investment. Since 2011, smartphone usage has increased from 35 percent to more than 80 percent. People buy, look up contact information, products and services on their smartphones. Gain momentum by capitalizing on this here-to-stay trend. Think of your site as a catalog or phone book in the palm of your client’s hand. 

#2 Your marketing content is not visually appealing.

The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than plain text. About 90 percent of all information transmitted into and through the brain is visual. Too many people think they can do their own marketing content, yet they fail. Do not make your human resources department tackle marketing or attempt to do graphic design. Would you let a random person cut your hair? No. Image matters. Graphic design is a science as well as an art. Best to leave it to the experts. 

#3 You neglect your company’s online presence.

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. You need to be connecting with your audience, customer base, influencers, employees and peripheral base. LinkedIn is a good place to start.  This is the place to share, network, see and be seen. If you don’t even go to the party, you’ll never be seen. And your website will remain in static Internet purgatory. 

#4 You’re not clearly stating what makes your company different.

Messaging is even more important now in our virtual age. Using industry jargon or feel-good statements does no one any favors, and we all come to a screeching halt. Try not to be too technical or vague in describing what makes you different. 

#5 You have no story that connects with the audience.

Draw in your client with a question that opens a story loop in the mind. For A/E/C companies, this is usually a problem that you can help solve. Instead of telling people what they need, open a story loop and compel them to want answers.

#6 You are not properly executing public relations campaigns.

This is KEY for our A/E/C industry. Promoting your company’s achievements through consistent PR campaigns helps further your brand. Highlight project completions, newsworthy events, award wins and nominations, industry news and employee promotions.

#7 You are not maximizing association involvement.

Even in this virtual age, membership involvement is key. Host a webinar. Sponsor digital events, websites and events, when they come back. If you are going to sponsor a big association event, have enough of a presence with people and support material.

#8 You’re building a Cadillac website but have no one to drive it. 

Companies too often make a sizable investment in a new website but have no marketing plan so that it gets noticed. “If you build it, they will come” does not apply in this case. Increase engagement and drive traffic to the site with social media, electronic marketing, SEO and SEM.

#9 You are focusing solely on customer acquisition.

Success rates of selling to a new customer fall somewhere between 5 percent to 20 percent while the success rate for retaining existing customers is 60 percent to 70 percent. Spending the majority of your budget on customer acquisition versus customer retention is yet another costly mistake many businesses make.

#10 Your marketing does not connect to a real sales plan.

The two go hand in hand. A marketing plan without sales engagement is like a bike without wheels. You may have a great seat and all the right tools for the ride, but you won’t go anywhere. Marketing should warm up cold leads and gather new ones.

Just like with any workout, consistency, planning and execution is key. 2021 is the time to get back in the saddle. These are just the basics. We have to plan the ride before we start it. And in the words of Peloton instructor Denis Morton, “Start Now. If you wait until the time’s right, you’ll wait forever.”

Stephanie Woodcock is president of Seal the Deal Too, a St. Louis-based marketing, creative & communications firm. She can be reached at stephanie@sealthedealtoo.com.

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COVID-19 Health Crisis Increases Importance of Boilerplate Lease Provisions

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By ANDREW J. WILLIAMS

Andrew Williams

While the COVID-19 pandemic has obviously resulted in far-reaching and fundamental impacts to the commercial real estate market, one phenomenon I have noticed in my leasing practice is the increased interest and focus my clients have on lease provisions that they previously thought of as “boilerplate.” This is understandable, since the pressures of the pandemic have stress-tested the enforceability of leases in several unique ways. Below are a few examples of lease provisions that have taken on new significance for my clients, both with respect to analyzing existing leases and negotiating new ones.

Force Majeure/Frustration of Purpose

Much has been written about the applicability and enforceability of force majeure provisions as they relate to COVID-19 lockdowns and the disruptions of the pandemic. Once a provision located near the end of most lease forms that many landlords and tenants glossed over during their review, the question of whether or not it applies in a given lease dispute is now of great importance. Most commercial leases contain the caveat that force majeure arguments will not excuse the failure to pay rent. To counteract this limitation, some of the new leases I have negotiated over the past several months include specific provisions permitting the partial abatement or deferral of rent in case of a new round of COVID-19 lockdowns. This concept is attractive to tenants for obvious reasons. However, some landlords see it as an opportunity to avoid the costly process of dealing with tenant requests for relief on a case-by-case basis, usually requiring attorney-prepared amendments or addenda to existing leases. 

Assignment/Subletting

No tenant enters into a lease with the intention of needing to assign or sublease its space before the end of the lease term, but the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have greatly increased the scrutiny that these provisions receive. Many offices and businesses remain closed or are operating at reduced capacity, so the option of subletting to a new tenant to reduce or eliminate rent expenses is attractive to many. However, before hitting the market to look for a subtenant or engaging a broker to do the same, it is important to dust off this provision in the existing lease to understand whether subletting requires prior written consent from the landlord, which it often does. Some leases even permit a landlord to terminate the lease in response to a request by the tenant to assign or sublet space, which may be a shock to tenants simply exploring their options. It is also common for leases to include a review fee or expense-covering mechanism for approval requests to landlords. 

Subordination and Attornment

It is difficult to think of a standard lease provision more obscure and filled with “legalese” than provisions related to subordination and attornment, but overlooking these provisions can have very significant impacts in the event of a default or foreclosure under a landlord’s mortgage or deed of trust. With the COVID-19 pandemic straining landlords and causing an increase in loan defaults, these provisions are more important than ever. Many leases contain automatic subordination provisions, meaning that the lease is automatically made subordinate to mortgages and deeds of trust in favor of the landlord’s lender. If the landlord subsequently defaults on its loan and the lender forecloses, the lender can sweep away any existing tenant lease that has been subordinated in this way. This may be disastrous to tenants, especially if they have invested significant dollars building out their spaces or if replacement space is not easily found. As protection, some leases provide that subordination of the lease is conditioned upon the execution of a subordination, non-disturbance and attornment agreement (often referred to as an SNDA). An SNDA typically confirms the rights of the lender to foreclose and receive rents, while also providing that the tenant will not be disturbed from possession of its space if the tenant is not in default under the lease. For tenants dealing with foreclosure resulting from a landlord’s loan default, a signed SNDA can be the difference between business as usual and lease termination.

While we all hope the end of the pandemic is in sight, attention to detail in drafting and negotiating lease terms to best protect your interests during unexpected times remains essential.

Andrew J. Williams is an attorney at Carmody MacDonald in St. Louis and focuses his practice in the areas of real estate, corporate law and mergers and acquisitions. He can be reached at ajw@carmodymacdonald.com or (314)854-8671.

This column is for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be considered legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

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A View From the Top

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By: Michael Chollet, Publisher – St. Louis CNR Magazine

 

Mike Chollet

A few weeks ago, my son and I set out on our annual trout fishing trip to the White River in Arkansas. The Fall weather and Ozark mountain scenery were beautiful and the fish were exceptionally cooperative. We’ve been making the trip for several years now and I always look forward to a stretch of river where there are a number of impressive homes – my favorite sits at the tip-top of the tallest hill in sight, 300 or more feet above the river. The house is easy to spot because of its distinctive red, metal roof. Over the years, it has become a fishing reference point that we nicknamed the Red Roof Inn. I’ve often wondered about how the world looks from way up there.

This year, on our first day out, my son laid his rod aside after a few hours of fishing and pulled a surprise from his knapsack – a small drone with high-def video capability which he launched from the front transom of the boat. He flew it low over the river a few hundred yards and then it rose and rose until it was flying a few hundred feet above the “Red Roof Inn.”  All the while he was controlling it with his phone and viewing the video footage as it recorded. The structure we could see from below was the largest of a few others surrounding a large concrete courtyard. The drone footage showed that this hill was indeed the highest for miles around and the view from the top, as I had guessed, was truly spectacular.

Seeing that little gizmo in action, I felt lucky to be living in a time of such magical technology. Winston Churchill’s life spanned the invention of the airplane and the moon landing, but folks of my generation have witnessed technological advancements that far surpass those experienced by old Sir Winston.

We’ve had the privilege of seeing impressive progress in a lot of other areas as well. As the eldest son of no-nonsense woman who ran her own company for as long as I can remember, it’s meaningful for me to see women gain an increased presence in leadership roles in a range of industries. They are outnumbering men in graduating into professional careers such as law and medicine and the number of women graduating from business schools is nearing 50 percent of all enrollees. Inroads have also been made in the traditionally male-dominated construction industry.

Those inroads and the remarkable people who are forging them were the inspiration for our 2020 Women in Construction Awards which are featured in this issue. An all-star selection committee made up of eight industry insiders took on the daunting task of choosing our winners from among the 60 nominations we received, and we are extremely grateful for their time and effort.

Reading through the submissions, it was clear that the nominees share a common characteristic of tenacity which is a requisite tool for a woman attempting to open doors in the construction industry. The high-achieving women highlighted in this issue scratched out their own futures through advanced education, serious mentorships, challenging work experience and careful cultivation of industry relationships. We salute our 2020 Women in Construction winners and applaud all the nominees on their success. Your contributions have made the industry and the region better for all who aspire to share your view from the top.

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AGCMO/TRC Partnership Generates 2nd Class of Graduates

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Early in 2020, AGCMO entered into a partnership with Three Rivers College (TRC) in Poplar Bluff to offer a 6-week certification program designed to propel its graduates into Heavy/Highway construction industry. The first class, taught out of the TRC facility in Poplar Bluff, was dramatically impacted by the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, forcing both a delay in classes and a substantial reduction in class size. Ultimately, in June, the programs first six students received their Heavy/Highway Construction Program certificate.

In October, the second class of students began their training at TRC’s Kennett, MO facility and just before Thanksgiving, nine individuals received their certificate.

Certified and ready for work in the Heavy/Highway Construction Industry

There are currently a number of job opportunities in the southeast Missouri area for individuals qualified to enter the heavy/highway construction industry. MoDOT recently awarded AGCMO member, Robertson Contractors, Inc., a contract to rebuild 20 bridges in the region – and Robertson is quickly putting some of these graduates to work. MoDOT will continue to work on Highway 67 South and other interstates in the region over the next few years, ensuring continued prospects for work into the future.

About the Program at TRC

Students participating in the TRC program pay nothing to attend as the cost is covered by AGCMO’s Education Foundation and Three Rivers College. Maximum class size is 15 people, ensuring personal attention and opportunity for hands-on training using tools of the trade.

The TRC program provides great opportunities to individuals from southeast Missouri to work close to home and provides the opportunity for good paying jobs to individuals from some of the most depressed counties of Missouri.

The third class of individuals seeking their Heavy/Highway Construction Certification will begin early in 2021.

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Altering Your Sales Approach in This Climate

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By TOM WOODCOCK

Tom Woodcock

Sales trainers and consultants around the country are trying to pull rabbits out of their hats. How do you teach traditional sales techniques to contractors in a non-traditional business environment?

Answering that question is a daunting task. I’ll take a stab at it. As I watch and experience what is taking place in this sales climate due to the virus issue, election season and mercurial economic conditions, I’ve noticed a couple trends.

Trend #1: Zoom meetings are leveling the playing field. There are few ways to gain competitive separation when people are meeting from their home offices and kitchen tables. Plus, video fatigue is very real and growing. To combat this, it is critically important to be prepared, upbeat and interesting. If you just go through the motions when you jump on a video sales call, you blend in with the digital white noise.

Have some humor ready, look fantastic, mind your background and for goodness sake, make eye contact. Keep your traditional sales principles in place and achieve some level of commitment by the call’s end. Anything you would do in a physical, face-to-face meeting, do the same in a video call…you can even buy lunch! Have it delivered if your customer is willing and eat together online. You need to be creative to catch attention.

Trend #2: Virtual meetings are losing a level of professionalism. The more relaxed environment of a home office can breed a false sense of security. What happens around you on a call can distract your client. Drop the ocean background video. That’s not standing out. That’s unprofessional. You should be the interest factor, above all else. People are still buying from you, and they have an expectation that you function with the same level of professionalism as you did prior to this season of virtual interaction.

Trend #3: Confrontational topics abound. Stay away from them. Election results, religious points and perspectives on virus numbers can alienate your client. Even if your client or prospect brings up these topics, do your best to avoid the trap. I’m seeing too many salespeople make political statements and judgments that can erect a wall between them and their customers. I respect your opinion, but I really don’t need to hear it during a business setting. Many digital platforms are diving very negatively; selling with the same demeanor can kill your transactions.

Here’s a key to achieving sales success in this climate: Be strong in the vehicles and channels you have available, but always be looking to get as close to normal as possible. Determine what is an acceptable format for you with regard to meeting with customers face-to-face, attending association meetings and networking. After you have done so, look for opportunities that fit into that format. Find clients who are willing to meet face-to-face. It may take more contacts than usual to develop a full roster of meetings, but if it’s important to you, then make the calls.

I’m seeing too many people giving up on sales efforts and focusing solely on their marketing. Though I strongly believe in aggressive marketing programs, you can’t quit on your sales efforts. I’m not here to set your personal standards; I’m only relaying what is working. Individuals who are still getting out and meeting are seeing results. Whether you agree or not with that fashion of sales work in this era, it’s just a fact.

I also understand that different markets have differing restrictions. Staying within those guidelines and effectively meeting with clients is feasible. Unfortunately, this is the world we currently live in – yet commerce is moving forward. Construction predictions are all over the board. That said, the more sales activity you can enact, the greater chance you can secure projects regardless of the economic or political climate.

Good sales work endures. Relationships established prior to these events will cut through the uncertainty. I’ve been selling and teaching people to sell for decades. The one constant is that those who look for every angle to get in front of customers end up being the top performers. There are currently plenty of reasons to explain poor sales performance; just don’t let them become excuses. Digging in and fighting through difficult circumstances is what the champions do. There is business opportunity out there if you look hard and use a disciplined approach. It also doesn’t hurt to ask for a different set of eyes on your sales direction and take some constructive criticism from that individual.

This is a time to roll up your sales sleeves and find answers. Those who overcome can still experience success and growth. The companies that settle for down years will have exactly that. Whether you agree or disagree with the methodology I’ve stated is immaterial. The facts are apparent. You can achieve sales results in a pandemic, during an election year and in the midst of an economic uncertain business climate. Just do what you know you have to do to achieve it.

Tom Woodcock, president of seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer for the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached via his website,  www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com, or at 314.775.9217.

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Financing Issues Surrounding Modular Construction

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By ELIZABETH A. BARRETT

Elizabeth Barrett

Modular construction is on the rise in the commercial construction industry, including the new AC Marriott NoMad New York Hotel in New York City, the world’s tallest modular hotel originally scheduled to be stacked late fall 2020.

Modular construction is touted as being faster, better and cheaper than traditional construction; however, many traditional commercial lenders are hesitant to toss their hat in the ring and lend money to such projects due to the collateral timing issues involved with such financing. Understanding the basic distinctions between the applicability of governing law is crucial to structuring the modular build contract and avoiding potential pitfalls. 

Background

Modular construction is an alternative construction method in which 60 percent to 90 percent of a building – usually complete with flooring, ceilings, lighting, plumbing and appliances – is prefabricated offsite in individual modules, under safer controlled plant conditions, using the same building materials and designed to the same building codes and standards as normal construction, yet in about half the time with less waste and without the hindrance of weather-related delays. Simultaneously, excavation and foundation work can be completed at the jobsite, saving time and speeding up the total length of construction. Once complete, the modules are transported to the job site and installed like perfectly fabricated building blocks constructed to seamlessly fit together. When implemented effectively, modular construction results in an efficient high-quality product with greater quality control in about half the time, with more predictable costs and with less waste than traditional construction.

The Financing Hurdle of Modular Building

Despite all its positives, there are still many challenges surrounding modular construction, especially when it comes to searching for financing from traditional commercial lenders. The largest financing hurdle of modular construction is the lack of security for the lender. Because the modules are constructed offsite, some courts have held that the prefabricated modules are considered the personal property of the modular builders as building materials, and the modules do not become real property of the modular builder until they are delivered to the jobsite. Accordingly, when financing modular builds, many lenders will only release loan proceeds after the modules are delivered and installed on the real property to ensure the disbursement is secured. This causes issues for the modular builders, as they need the loan proceeds disbursed up front to construct the modules offsite.

A Potential Legal Fix

A solution may be found in the courts’ treatment of mobile homes, modular homes and prefabricated buildings. Some courts have treated mobile homes, modular homes and prefabricated buildings as “goods” under the UCC. The UCC defines “goods” as “all things (including specially manufactured goods) which are movable at the time of identification to the contract for sale…” If the modules are considered goods, fixtures or commingled goods rather than building materials, this offers lenders the possibility of taking a security interest in the modules as “goods that are fixtures or …goods that become fixtures” prior to the modules being incorporated as part of the real estate. This would allow lenders to disburse loan proceeds to the modular builders to construct the modules offsite, while providing the lenders with their desired security. Win-win, right?

Pros and Cons of Applying UCC to Modular Builders

As stated, from a lender’s perspective, a shift to the UCC view would be beneficial and extend their security interest into the fabrication stage when the modules are offsite. However, this may be easier said than done.  Modular construction is challenging in that it is a hybrid that combines both goods and services; therefore, labeling modules as “goods” may not be that simple. Additionally, from a modular builder’s perspective, labeling modules as “goods” may not be as beneficial or desired. Under the UCC, a seller’s security interests in goods are extinguished upon sale to a buyer in the ordinary course of business, even if the security interests are perfected and the buyer knows of its existence. Thus, if modular construction is governed under the UCC, a modular builder (as a seller of goods) could be stripped of any remaining security interests it may have in the modules after a project owner (as a buyer of goods) has paid the general contractor and incorporated the modules into the finished building. This may cause more hesitation on behalf of the modular builders when considering entering into a modular build contract governed by the UCC. 

The Future of Modular Build Financing

Arguably, if courts would shift their interpretation of modular construction to be within the realm of the UCC as “goods,” it would allow lenders to take a security interest in the modules prior to delivery making it more comfortable for traditional lenders to offer financing to modular construction projects. The courts’ prior treatment of mobile homes, modular homes and prefabricated buildings as “goods” under the UCC opens the door for this possible future shift. However, there is no case law applying this interpretation to larger-scale commercial construction. Until then, careful construction of modular build contracts is required to clarify the parties’ mutual understanding of whether the UCC applies and how the various security interests run with the modules. As modular building becomes more prevalent, we can likely expect to see the nuances of whether the modules are defined as building materials or goods and the applicability of the UCC worked out within the legal system to, hopefully, make modular building more palatable to traditional lenders.

Only time will tell.

Elizabeth Barrett is an attorney at Carmody MacDonald in St. Louis and focuses her practice in the areas of banking, real estate, corporate and business law. She has represented financial institutions and other lenders in complex commercial loans and secured transactions, and other clients in general real estate acquisition and development matters.

This column is for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be considered legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

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The Coming Decade: A Revolution in Technology, Education and Impact of Women

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By Lee Metcalf

Lee Metcalfe

The 2020s will see further transformation of business and society around the world because of technology. This means unheard of levels of productivity across every discipline of the construction industry – actually, across every Industry.

At the core of this movement is information technology and the ability to access and harness huge volumes of data, the ability to put the insights from this data at the fingertips of every worker and the ability to create software, programs and visualizations that increase the usefulness and relevance of that information to businesses and to everyday lives.

But this engine of productivity, like any engine, needs fuel. In this instance, that fuel is savvy, creative, motivated people with the right skills who understand how to isolate the business requirement and focus the myriad of IT tools and techniques to best effect. And we will need a lot of them, which means that the 2020s will bring a revolution in education –

one that will inspire more women and young people of color to choose careers in IT.

According to Sarah K. White, senior writer for CIO Online magazine (January 2020), women comprise 47 percent of all employed adults in the U.S., but as of 2015, they hold only 25 percent of computing roles, according to data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology. Of the 25 percent of women working in tech, black and Hispanic women accounted for 3 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

What is happening to reverse this trend? Alignment and collaboration between the educators and employers. Clearly many companies are involved in supporting young people and STEM education on some level. But this is the tip of the iceberg.

Employers are opening their doors to young people earlier and more powerfully than ever before. Employers, school districts and nonprofits like the Girl Scouts will increasingly be working together on levels unheard of in the past. Reaching out to young women to consider careers in industries, such as construction and IT, where they have been underrepresented is a key to our future. 

Jennings School District in St. Louis and Superintendent Art McCoy exemplify this. McCoy starts children thinking about the possibilities and careers in the 3rd grade. Each school year, they are increasingly exposed to employers and a wide range of types of work. Even more importantly, Jennings students focus during their high school years on completing key certificates for their chosen industries of interest in health care, construction, manufacturing, IT or the arts. This is the age of STEAM – science, technology, engineering, art and math – and creative ways to inspire involvement.

McCoy has partnered with area businesses to not only fund creative learning experiences in the school but integrate on site learning experiences (the next generation of internships) into the curriculum. At Jennings, students engage in internships with and site visits to companies and institutions such as World Wide Technology, St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Clayco. McCoy has taken the district’s construction career development initiative and put it on steroids. 

From graduates leveraging their internship experiences into job opportunities to graduates going on to higher learning, Jennings School District has them. Malik Sediqzad, a graduate who is becoming an architect with a full ride to Harvard, is one of them. The district is claiming success across the board. Women in technology are and will continue to be a big part of the STEAM that is fueling the productivity surge of the coming decade.  

Lee J. Metcalf is vice president of community engagement at Daugherty Business Solutions and a retired Navy Reserve Rear Admiral.  https://www.daugherty.com/

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Minimizing Your Risk of Cyber Breach

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Submitted by: Schmersahl Treloar & Co.

Concerns about cyber threats disrupting core operations are now a top operational risk.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has called threats to cybersecurity “the biggest systematic risk we have facing us.”

Given the impact that breaches can have and the level of sophistication shown by hackers in recent breaches, it’s not a matter of if a breach will occur, but when and how it will occur.

Cyber data — including financial data, sensitive customer information and employee records stored on the cloud or on the company’s technology devices and networks — is one of the most valuable assets many companies own. Each year, management should evaluate what’s being done to protect these intangibles, where vulnerabilities exist and how to make the assets more secure. Here are some cyber protection best practices for you to consider.

Think Big (and Small)

Many hackers operate overseas, making them harder to identify and prosecute. So, think globally when assessing your cyber breach risks.

However, hacks are often perpetrated through the victim’s small or midsize vendors. That’s because smaller companies often lack the resources to put strong security measures in place — and hackers are ready, willing and able to take advantage.

Consider the 2017 breach of the Equifax credit bureau when hackers gained unauthorized access to sensitive personal information on more than 143 million individuals in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The theft was accomplished though a vulnerability in a website application.

That was just one high-profile hack. Other big-name victims have included the Securities and Exchange Commission, JP Morgan, Target, eBay, Home Depot and Yahoo.

In the Target case, hackers reportedly obtained information through a third-party heating and air conditioning vendor, which had access to the retailer’s computer network. The stolen credit and debit card data was then moved to a server in Russia. Many other cyber crime incidents have also reportedly been linked to vendors with lax security.

Some companies limit outside access to their computer networks, refusing supplier and customer requests to share data. Others require vendors to verify their network security protocols. Some companies are establishing cyber security ratings — similar to credit scores — based on the amount of traffic to a company’s website coming from servers that are linked to cybercrime. As those ratings become more refined, managers may choose to avoid doing business with high-risk customers and suppliers.

Engage in “Cyber Hygiene”

Protecting against cyber threats is an ongoing challenge, not a one-time event. Every time a software, hardware or application manufacturer releases an update or patch, install it immediately on every device in a systematic fashion. Why? Hackers constantly troll for the latest patches and updates because they show where vulnerabilities exist. If hackers are nimble, they can exploit these vulnerabilities to steal data before customers have a chance to install the fix.

Another useful prevention strategy is requiring periodic changes to log-in passwords. Hacked passwords can cause a domino effect, because people tend to use the same password for multiple accounts. For example, when Adobe lost 33 million customers’ log-in credentials, other websites discovered that their accounts were being accessed using passwords stolen from Adobe. Some companies also use a security question or require users to select a preferred image to add another layer of identity verification.

Limit Access

Companies often have more devices connected to the Internet than management realizes. Moreover, when employees take devices out of the office, they expose data to less-than-secure home networks and public hotspots that provide wireless Internet access. Evaluate which devices need to be connected to the Web and take steps to minimize off-site risks. Consider limiting which employees can work from home, educating employees about the risks of cyber breaches and installing encryption software on devices that link to external networks.

Encryption may create compatibility issues when sharing data with other companies and slow down data transmission. But it can be a powerful and cost-effective tool in the battle against cybercrime.

Seek Outside Help

Cyber security is an important task that few organizations can handle exclusively in-house. Consider seeking outside help to reinforce your current information technology (IT) policies and procedures. For example, a growing number of small and midsize companies use outside computer security companies to evaluate vulnerabilities in their network and test how well in-house IT professionals are securing their networks.

Another popular security measure is cyber liability insurance. Professional and general business liability insurance policies generally don’t cover losses related to a hacking incident. Cyber liability insurance can cover a variety of risks, depending on the scope of the policy. It typically protects against liability or losses that come from unauthorized access to your company’s electronic data and software.

Instead of purchasing a standalone cyber liability policy, you can add a cyber liability endorsement to your errors and omissions policy. Not surprisingly, the coverage through the endorsement isn’t as extensive as the coverage in a standalone policy.

In addition, external auditors can help companies evaluate their exposure to cyber breach risks. Risk assessment is an important part of year end audit procedures. Forensic accountants are familiar with ways to identify and reduce cyber breach risks. Failure to protect valuable intangibles against the risk of cyber breaches can turn this valuable asset into a costly liability.

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The Future of Office Space in a Post COVID-19 World

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By BRIAN J. NOLAN

Brian Nolan

COVID-19 has led to an enhanced health consciousness across the country, affecting virtually every aspect of our lives. In response, federal, state and local governments implemented laws, rules and regulations regarding health and safety. These changes will have an impact on how we work and on the future design of the spaces where we work for the months and years to come.

Which rules and regulations will affect the office?

The CDC rule that will have the most immediate impact on office use and design is the need to establish policies and practices for social distancing, including closing or limiting access to common areas where employees are likely to congregate and interact in the office. For local level guidance, a best practice is to contact your local attorney to walk through all local requirements, which can vary greatly depending on location.

To comply with the new guidelines, building owners and the companies/tenants within their buildings must work together on solutions that keep offices safe and a viable option. A focus should be to find ways to foster collaboration while accommodating the health and safety of office members as employees slowly return and office spaces gradually increase to full capacity.

Outdoor Meeting Areas

Where possible, one option for more open meeting spaces is an expansion of accessible, quality green spaces and outdoor areas where people can gather while socially distanced. The ability to foster teamwork is an important factor to consider when designing office space. Collaborations between co-workers still need to take place while taking into consideration new health guidelines. Outdoor areas allow for socially distanced meetings and could be used by office members as a place to meet, discuss, and collaborate.

It is in the best interest of building owners to invest in ways to bring people together and enhance the space while conforming to social distancing guidelines. Businesses will likely focus on maintaining some semblance of their normal office culture through design changes, while building owners will look to enhance their properties to bring more value. This value can be driven by investors who have already begun showing an increased interest in sustainable investments.

Individual Working Spaces

The glory days of shared office spaces and co-working space may be behind us, at least for the time being.

Video conferences have proven to be low-cost, efficient alternatives to in-person meetings. The need for individual spaces that allow for people to participate in video conferences without disrupting others will have an increasing importance in a post-COVID office. Individual office spaces will also reduce close interactions and the use of communal surfaces. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has already shifted its focus to reducing the spread of COVID in the office through updating Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) strategies to address factors that could affect COVID spread within the office – such as indoor environmental quality and cleaning – and by creating new pilot credits focusing on social distancing, nontoxic surface cleaning and air quality. The implementation of strategies for clean air and clean surfaces will be supplemented by individual spaces, allowing office members to maintain their own work area and keep a safe distance from others in the office.

New Office Construction

COVID-19 has many in the construction industry questioning the market for newly constructed office buildings and asking how construction will look in the future.

COVID will likely change new office construction designs. Technological advancements such as touch-free elevators and touch-free thermal scanning at lobby security desks may be implemented in new builds. Construction job sites may see increased usage of digital collaboration tools, 4D and 5D simulations and online channels for everything from monitoring employees to ordering materials and maintaining cash flow. 

Outside of technological advancements, larger corridors and washrooms are a possibility due to social distancing requirements. Rooftop gardens, or other green outdoor balcony areas, are also sustainable options for new designs. Look no further than the extensive outdoor garden area and green designs planned for the Forsyth Pointe office building currently under construction in Clayton. These gardens and balconies could be used in the same ways as the outdoor spaces described above.  

While the extent of the long-term impact remains to be seen, office spaces as we know them will face both immediate and enduring changes.

Brian J. Nolan is a partner at Carmody MacDonald and focuses his practice on commercial real estate, banking and business law. Carmody MacDonald is a St. Louis-based law firm offering business, individual, and litigation services and focused on establishing close relationships with clients, serving as valued counselors and providing exceptional service.

This column is for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be considered legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

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Three Marketing Secrets to Make Your B2B Digital Life Easier

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By STEPHANIE WOODCOCK

Stephanie Woodcock

While we are all working tirelessly to increase sales in this unsettled business environment, I’m giving away some of my digital marketing secrets to help you.

Listening to clients’ needs and struggles in the construction industry has helped me develop a syllabus of sorts. I begin with Digital Marketing 101. When clients start asking about Google rankings, Facebook ads and website analytics, I remind them they have prerequisites to meet before getting to that class.  That’s Digital Marketing 301.

There are many so-called “experts” and new digital marketing channels; it’s easy to get overwhelmed. One size does not fit all. 

Secret #1: You don’t have to do it all to get quality leads. 

Pro Tip: If your marketing person is trying to upsell you on these new ways to get leads, be wary. It’s not supposed to be complex. A simple website that tells a story, presents a problem and solution, provides key client success stories and asks for the sale with strong call-to-action buttons is a great start. 

Ask your marketing person: How do you wireframe a website to get more leads? If they don’t have a good answer, find someone else!

Great copy supported by clear and inspiring design helps connect your company to your customer’s needs and is another must-have. Hire someone who can accomplish this and understands your values and core principles. 

I was recently asked by a client, “Why do we need to upgrade our website if we get most of our leads and clients through associations and relationships? Why do we need to invest in a more modern looking site if we are growing organically through referrals?”

When I asked my client what type of clients he was attracting, he identified large engineering companies with multiple layers of potential customers. 

My answer: If you are going to increase your business within this company through referrals, you need to upgrade your brand and digital identity. If you are referred from one customer – who knows you – to a colleague in the same company who does not know you, chances are good that the new referral will go straight to your website to gain a sense of who you are.

This client asked a valuable question: In a tight economy, why should I invest precious dollars in a website when the one we have is adequate enough? Does anyone really go to my website? The answer for his company is yes.

Your website should be a visual representation of what you want to convey to the customer. It needs strong, clear copy with visual, inspiring design. In this case, a multi-million-dollar industrial engineering firm was searching for a national specialty contractor with money to spend on an updated website. The firm was not looking for a budget company who clearly cut corners. Image matters.

In these times, where face-to-face interaction is sparse, our digital footprint is even more important.  

Secret #2: Sell the story before selling your product/service. 

As a business owner, have you ever sat down with a salesperson and halfway through the pitch you wonder what it is they are selling – and what it has to do with you? This sales professional has forgotten his/her story and is only selling the product. 

The story is the why behind the what. Why do I need what you are selling? How will it make my life better, easier and more successful? Selling the story makes everyone want to know how it ends. 

Too often, B2B companies forget to be interesting. They focus too much on content and details of the product/service that they miss telling the big picture of why prospects should consider doing business with them.

Good copy opens a story loop in the prospect’s head, making them want to keep reading to find out what the answer is. 

I recently talked with a future client who was struggling with converting website traffic to leads. A quick audit of the client’s website revealed overarching, glossy statements like “sustainable solutions,” “make every drop count” and “chemical free is the better way.” The site quite literally showered me with statements about the benefits of the organization’s product. Yet I didn’t know what was sustainable, and if it was supposed to be dripping. Making something “chemical free” sounds positive, but that depends. Are we talking about food, water or hair products? I rather like the effects of the chemicals they put in my hair. 

The site was also missing strong imagery to help the consumer understand the industry and product the client was portraying. And it was missing strong copy and inspiring design. 

We needed to engage the customer by presenting a problem and our solution to that problem. How do I save the prospect money and headaches by solving a common problem? 

Secret #3: Marketing can be aggressive and that’s okay.

While it depends upon the marketing channel, it’s okay to ask for the sale with strong calls-to-action in your marketing. “Buy Now, Contact Us, Get a Quote, Book an Appointment, Schedule a Consultation” are so much better call-to-action statements than: “Learn More, Click Here, Find Out More” or (God help us all) “Read More.” When you have strong problem and solution verbiage above the fold, you can and should ask for the sale with noticeable call-to-action buttons. 

Closing deals and warming up leads is not just for the frontline sales team anymore. Digital marketing is now the front line. Hit the pain points. Create urgency. Tell the story of why your customer needs you.

You can be aggressive and straightforward. From websites and email campaigns to social media posts and sponsored ads, make sure your copy is strong and your call to action is stronger. 

I like my first cup of coffee strong and my second cup stronger. 

Stephanie Woodcock is president of Seal the Deal Too, a St. Louis-based marketing, creative & communications firm. She can be reached at stephanie@sealthedealtoo.com.

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